Branstad keeps Leopold Center open, but without state funding
DES MOINES (AP) — Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad on Friday approved a roughly $7.2 billion state budget that will keep open a longtime research center, though he still plans to remove its funding.
Branstad used his veto power to cut language that would have eliminated the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. But he kept plans to redirect a tax worth roughly $1.5 million that helps pay for the center. It will go to a separate ISU center that studies water quality.
Branstad’s spokesman Ben Hammes did not give a reason for the setup, only noting in an email that it will preserve the center’s existence, “while also ensuring funding is provided to Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to continue valuable research into environmental and water quality issues.”
Mark Rasmussen, director of the Leopold Center, said the center would remain open under the new circumstances, though he didn’t comment to what extent. He said the center will work to complete existing research projects and grants. He said decisions regarding the transition of the center will be managed by the university.
“We’ve got to roll up our sleeves and take a look at things,” he said. “We’re grateful to the governor for the opportunity to retain the Leopold Center name. It’s meaningful to a lot of us.”
The Leopold Center, which is commemorating its 30th anniversary this year, is known for its research on sustainable farming practices. Republicans with majorities in the Legislature indicated during the session that the decision to close the center was based on the belief that its work was complete.
Rasmussen had disputed that narrative, arguing the center’s research is valuable to farmers. News of the potential closing garnered statewide attention. Democrats, in the minority with no power to stop the GOP-led push, also criticized the move.
Branstad’s bill signings on Friday also included a health and human services appropriation that directs the state to give up millions in federal Medicaid money and spend about $3 million in state dollars for a family planning program beginning July 1 that excludes funding for clinics affiliated with organizations providing abortions.
The costly line item was approved as a GOP priority despite statewide budgeting constraints and extensive agency cuts. Iowa Republicans have long-sought to defund Planned Parenthood as well as promote legislation restricting abortions, though no state money pays for the procedure.
Iowa will block funds to any clinic under the Planned Parenthood of the Heartland umbrella, though three of the 12 affiliated clinics in Iowa do not offer abortion services. This is similar to regulations in Missouri and Texas, which also operate state-run family planning programs excluding abortion-affiliated providers.
Planned Parenthood of the Heartland has said the move will hurt access to quality women’s health care in Iowa, particularly in rural areas.
Branstad also signed a limited medical marijuana oil program into law, noting a handful of problems for lawmakers to address next session. The governor took issue with language allowing some felons to work at dispensaries and pointed out the unintended consequences of immediately repealing the previous medical marijuana oil program, which served Iowans with epilepsy. The Iowa Department of Public Health will file emergency rules to maintain access for those patients.
Branstad indicated Monday he had wanted to finish budget bills before the end of the week. He is preparing to resign from office to become U.S. ambassador to China, pending a Senate confirmation that could happen as early as this week.